Greece is set for another record year as holiday visitors shrug off tales of financial collapse, political turmoil, possible grexit and an influx of refugees. Latest figures show holiday visitors rising 4.6% in August taking the number of international arrivals in the first eight months of 2015 to 11.4 million, up 6.3% on figures for the same period last year. Tourism leaders in Greece are now confident of passing the record 26 million mark by the end of the year, bringing in tourist revenues of €14.5 billion. Almost all of the Greek islands have recorded increased numbers of holiday arrivals this year with only Crete, Kos and Rhodes showing a small decrease on last year's record breaking season. But with VAT on accommodation and tourism goods set to rise in October this year, hotel owners warn of challenges to come if the Greek Islands holiday market is to stay competitive in the 2016 holiday season.
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As an antidote to the usual gushing Greece holiday brochures we offer a more prosaic peek at holidays in Greece and travel in the Greek islands with unbiased reports and independent guides to the best Greek beaches.
Our Popular islands list those in greatest demand. They usually have their own airport and plenty of tourist attractions.
The Peaceful islands tend to be off the main tourist trail and, while some have larger airports, others may need a ferry journey to reach them.
The Sleepy islands are well off the tourist track and may only be reached by ferry, with some a considerable distance from the nearest large airport.
Our Offbeat islands are mainly for those seeking a more remote and authentic holidays in Greece.
Favourite Greek beaches
Kalyves beach on Crete
The north coast resort of Kalyves has two beaches split by a small headland. The main beach is a sweeping crescent of good soft sand with tavernas and shops behind and a small harbour at the eastern end.
Alyki sands on Paros
Set in a small, sheltered cove, Alyki has small port for fishing boats and a long sandy beach that creeps around the headland. Several small bays are dotted along this part of the south east coast of Paros.
Lassi beaches of Kefalonia
The purpose-built tourist area of Lassi, near the capital of Argostoli, has a several fine sandy beach strips. Sunbeds and gently sloping shorelines makes them ideal for families, while rows of tavernas line the main road.
Greece slipped into third place in the Blue Flag beach quality awards in 2015, picking up flags for only 395 beaches and nine marinas across Greece and the Greek Islands. It places Greece behind tourism rivals Spain, which topped the awards with 578 beaches, and by Turkey with 436 beaches now flying the Blue Flag. in 2014 Greece and the Greek islands were awarded a total of 408 Blue Flags, 15 more than the 2013 but this was cut dramatically when 38 Greek beaches were stripped of their Blue Flags after failing spot checks by beach inspectors. Most the Greek beaches losing the coveted Blue Flag were on the island of Corfu. Only seven Corfu beaches qualify for flags this year compared to 30 in 2014. More then 4,000 beaches and 650 marinas fly the Blue Flags worldwide.
Underground caves of Antiparos
Antiparos is famous for a huge limestone cave of amazing stalactites and stalagmites, many etched with centuries old graffiti. Although repeatedly vandalised, much remains to wonder at in the underground caverns.
Private island of Skorpios
Once the private island of former Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and now owned by a Russian billionaire, visitors are not allowed to land here but it's popular sail-by destination for Lefkas island tour boats.
Mamma Mia chapel on Skopelos
Made famous by the hit movie musical Mamma Mia, the picture-postcard chapel of Agios Ioannis rests on top of the 100 metre high rock with amazing views of the coast of Skopelos and over the sea to Alonissos.
Scuba diving off the Greek Islands got a new lease of life when diving bans were lifted. Now Greek scuba dive centres are springing up everywhere to meet the demand. Until recently, diving was limited to just a few Greek island dive sites in order to protect the ancient underwater treasures that lie beneath its seas. Now scuba diving is allowed pretty much everywhere in Greek seas with just a few prohibited sites. The result has been a sharp rise in the number of Greek Island diving centres. In choosing one for your holiday be sure to check that instructors are PADI qualified and the wise will take out specialist scuba diving insurance just in case. That said, the crystal clear waters of Greece are teeming with marine life and there are some spectacular caves and shipwrecks for Greek Island visitors to explore.
Planning ahead has always been a headache for those who like Greek island hopping on the extensive ferry system. Summer timetables were never published before May making it hard work to plan a Greek holiday on more than a couple of islands. Now things are different. Ferry companies got together and agreed to release summer routes and schedules at the end of the previous year. The move makes it possible for Greek holiday enthusiasts to cash in on holiday discounts for booking cheap flights early safe in the knowledge that they will not find themselves stuck on an island for days trying to find out when the next ferry sailing is scheduled. The much-welcomed move should help boost visitor numbers to the Greek Islands and help extend the holiday season.
Seaplane flights in the Greek Islands could take off early in 2016 but no one is holding their breath. Hellenic Seaplanes say flight trials could start as early as February next year with up to 100 routes operating for the summer holiday season. But it's not the first time that the launch has been delayed. Pledges to start flights in 2015 ended when ports failed to apply for licenses to operate waterways. Corfu was the only island with a waterways license despite the Greek government cutting through red tape in a bid to get the scheme off the ground. The recent economic upheavals have taken their toll with investors now less enthusiastic about the project. Hellenic Seaplanes says 30 minute seaplane flight will cost €30-75 with up to 19 passengers per flight.
There are more than 6,000 Greek Islands but most are just lumps of rock. Only around 230 are inhabited and about 80 have a population over 100. About a dozen are major holiday destinations with another 20 having substantial tourist visitors. There are six basic island groupings: the Ionian lie to the west and contain holiday islands of Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante. The Cyclades are found in the central Aegean and include Mykonos and Santorini as well as lesser visited islands like Paros and Naxos. To the east are the Dodecanese and major islands like Rhodes and Kos as well as smaller ones such as Symi and Patmos. To the north-east is the Sporades group which includes Skiathos and the north Aegean group of Samos, Lesvos and Thassos. To the south is Crete - big enough to be on its own.